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Kalasan Temple

By Devik Balami at
Kalasan Temple

The Buddhist temple Kalasan, also known as Candi Kalasan is an 8th-century Buddhist temple in Java, Indonesia. The temple is the oldest temple built in the Prambanan Plain. This Buddhist temple is also popularly known as Candi Kalibening. This temple is located in the Kalasan District of Sleman Regency.

Historical accounts of Kalasan temple

As mentioned in the Kalasan inscription dated late 8th century, the temple was erected by Guru Sang Raja Sailendravamcatilaka. This inscription was written in Sanskrit using Pranagari script. Along with the temple, a vihara was also built for the Buddhist monks.

Even though the temple has been renovated and partially rebuilt for several times, the temple's current condition is poor. In comparison to other temples nearby such as Prambanan, Sewu, and Sambisari, the Kalasan temple is also not well maintained.

Architecture features and Buddhist arts of the Kalasan Temple

The temple is constructed on the square sub-basement measuring 14.20 meters. The temple plan is cross-shaped and designed as a twelve-cornered polygon. The four cardinal points at the temple have stairs and gates which is beautifully decorated with Kala-Makara. There are also rooms measuring 3.5 square meters. Among them, the room facing north, west, and south doesn't house any Buddha statues but the inscription on the lotus pedestals suggests that these rooms once contains statues of Bodhisattvas.

The temple is constructed as facing east. Therefore, the eastern rooms of this temple serve as access to the main central room. In the main room, empty throne carved with Makara, lion, and elephant figure along with the lotus pedestal is also placed. As Kalasan inscription mentions, the temple once houses the statue of the Bodhisattva Tara which probably measures 4 m tall. By observing closely, one can identify that the statue might be in seated position and is made up of bronze.

The roof of the temple is designed in three sections: the lower, the middle and the top part. The lower design is carved according to the polygonal shape of the body. This part contains small statues of Bodhisattvas. Each of these statues is crowned with stupas. The middle part of the roof is designed in octagonal shape. Each of the sides further consists of the statue of Dhyani Buddha along with two standing Bodhisattvas. The top part of the roof is designed in the circular design. This part also contains 8 niches which are crowned with single large dagoba. It is recorded that the octagonal aspect of the structure has led to speculation of non-Buddhist elements in the temple. Another famous octagonal representation is the early Borobudur structure.

The temple is highly decorated with Buddhist arts and these arts are highly admired throughout the world. The Kala Face above the southern door has been photographed several times and are used by the number of foreign academics books with the purpose to give an account of the artistry by early Central Javanese artists. Likewise, there are other several niches- Buddha images, Buddhist figures, celestial bodies etc adorned on the outside as well as inside the temple. The niches displayed on the outer wall are carved with Kala, gods, and divinities in scenes depicting svargaloka, the celestial palace of the gods, Apsaras, and Gandharvas.

There has been found the traces of plaster called Vajralepa, literally diamond plaster on the outer wall of the temple. The same substance is also found in nearby Sari Temple. The sole purpose of the Vajralepa was to protect the temple wall but in current condition, this plaster has worn off.

Surrounding temples

The Kalasan temple is located on archaeologically rich Prambanan plains. Towards the northeast from the Kalasan temple, another highly important Sari temple is located. The distance between them is just a few hundred meters. Further east there are Prambanan complex, Sewu temple and Plaosan temple which also have historical importance.